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August.

Well the heat has gone and today looking out the back door it could have been any day in the year – it was cloudy, overcast, drizzly and cold. Whereas the heat was at one level unbearable one is all too aware how brief the summer actually is particularly as the swifts are already beginning to migrate – along with house Martins – sadly it seems there are fewer swallows this year.

We are facing changes too with a new system of licencing for animal displays coming in operation from October 1st 2018. We are not sure how the system will operate in practice but those of us with the existing licence have a period of 6 months to accommodate the change – so a clearer picture will emerge. The new licence appears to include the basis of the old licence, plus elements of the higher level type 2 transport licence, 2006 animal welfare legislation coupled with a home visit. Anyway we will see.

As I said in an earlier blog the hot weather is challenging at every level but after our scare at an earlier event in Staffordshire – things have been going well.

I am much criticised for having a wildlife garden beyond the aviaries – it is untidy – but the sighting of a hedgehog last evening – that has been living the garden for some time – has left me feeling vindicated! I leave you with a picture of it.

Still Hot!

We have had a good week despite the hot weather. A school visit proved interesting with an encounter for ‘Pippa’ with a gull – which was very aggressive and tried to chase her away. It was more complicated because she disappeared around a building. We feared the worst but her experience won the day and she  turned and tracked her way back. The students were  fascinated! I called her in – much relieved. When falcons have built up momentum ‘air speed’ they are well able to out manoeuvre a gull and also out pace it – but it is that period when they are taking off and ranging out at low speed  when they are vulnerable. Young falcon’s spooked in such a way can be easily lost.

I leave you with a picture of ‘Madam’ sitting to have her photo taken. What is remarkable is that this field of spring barley was planted barely ten weeks ago and has now has been harvested!

July 2018 Hot!

I am out with the dog before 8.00 am at the moment just to avoid the heat of the day – she can just chill for the rest of the day until I talk her down to the Knowle in the evening – the breeze can be very refreshing at that time of day.

This allows me to get the birds out earlier too and try to have them all flown before 11.00am on practice days. At Thornbury Castle we have lovely shade under the mature trees and the bookings tend to be after breakfast – so a good time.

All birds are flying well – I am doing some additional work with the Peregrine trying to get him and circle and wait on rather then just stooping to the lure. It is needed as he has become too clever at catching the lure! it will improve his flying and actually is long over due.

‘Pete’ the Kestrel has been flying well – I have altered things slightly for him too. This is quite normal and why my earlier falcons flew so well – sometimes you just have to make a change.

We have a hot weekend ahead so our sun protection awings will be out ‘ and needed!’ and set to the compass to avoid direct sun – hopefully we can also find natural shade under a tree.

I leave you with a picture of an orchid I found and the above picture of ‘Pete’ the Kestrel from today – down at the Knowle where the grass is now yellow and parched.

June.

With such a long winter we are still nervous that it may come back! so these long sunny days are days that we treasure but of course they present an extra challenge to those of us who provide falconry and birds of prey displays at events. It is very important that the training in terms of conditioning is absolutely spot on or falcons can suddenly drift up and wander off on thermals. Wonderful for the falcon to climb to cooler air and so doubt for some peaceful solitude but this contrasts strongly with the anxious falconer far down below in the arena waiting or I should say hoping for his falcon to reappear in a spectacular stoop – when its temporary absence is instantly forgiven.

In times of old when events were less commercial one could wait for a thermalling falcon to reappear but these days with follow on acts ‘waiting their turn’ in the arena there is no time. My old falcons Peggy and Duke were high flyers and just wonderful – the summers during their early years were warm and so encouraged this behaviour. We did not worry too much confident of their return. Of our present falcons ‘leah’ will thermal and stoop back into the arena but the others have not.

Imagine my dismay when our young lanneret ‘Brian’ suddenly started to gain height at alarming speed at a recent event – what should I do?

Part of the training of a falcon is to teach it the ‘ho!’ shout. This shout guarantees food for the falcon should it return immediately. We practise this at home just in case.I often use it for effect in the arena – a notable way to end the flight with a shout. Of this occasion it was for real! so I shouted ‘ho’ over the pa sound system. Thankfully Brian responded immediately and stooped back into the arena and bound to the lure. That was close!

He was wearing a radio transmitter on his leg but potentially he could have travelled miles if he had caught a breeze at altitude.

I have done demos now for over 30 years but that taught me a valuable lesson in terms of preparation for an event – and I will heed it! I leave you with a stylised 35mm B/W photo of ‘Sprite’ our Peregrine.

Warm weather here!

We had a good three days providing the falconry display at the Blenheim Palace jousting event – but the warmth though welcome was a shock to the system. From 7.5c at a display at Thornbury Castle on the previous Tuesday to somewhere near 28c over the following Bank Holiday weekend at Blenheim. But all went well – the birds flew brilliantly and ‘Bo’ the Eagle Owl along with her other flying managed a ‘fly over’ on Sunday – I was pleased because a sudden dramatic weather change effects her most.  But she is ’30’ now and has experienced almost every condition along the way.

Sprite our Peregrine is flying everyday now and typically we lost him for several hours when he suddenly decided to go chasing pigeons. To cut a long story short he ended up knee deep in the local stream and then he spooked and ended up three hours later on our local golf course. With the help of the radio tracking equipment and an assistant falconer plus a helpful golfer we found him. With a little bit of difficulty he came into the lure.

This is to be expected as falcons ‘out’ can get chased about by gulls, crows and the like and can have more serious encounters with Buzzards. This along with a strange environment falcons and in fact all birds of prey  can appear to lose their training and become  nervous and wild. ‘Slick’ our previous Peregrine was extremely difficult to reclaim if he wandered off. So getting Sprite back after tracking him down was a real bonus. With Peregrines it is a question of when not if!

‘Pete’ our Kestrel if flying well. he took part in a school birds of prey display this week – what with his hovering stooping flight and fine plumage is a real star. He is a feisty little bird – it is survival trait no doubt that is helpful when you are the smallest raptor in the village! We continue on. I leave you with a picture of said falcon ‘Sprite’ down on the Knowle. I took it with my mobile phone when he was sitting ‘feeding up’ on my  gloved left hand.

Warm weather to come!

I have almost forgotten how to spell the word ‘warm’ but we are told to expect warm weather over the next couple of days – well from tomorrow actually. In terms of our activities we are ‘up and running’ for the season ahead with all our birds of prey flying in readiness for our display season ahead. ‘Sprite’ our Peregrine is out of his aviary and I took him down to the field today and reintroduced him to lure – he knew what it was all about. They have incredible memories and after a lay off it takes just a little effort to get then in the air again – returning to the falconer I mean!

He is a lovely falcon and I am hoping we can do more events with him this year – apart from Thornbury Castle. Peregrine’s are difficult falcons to maintain for educational displays because they are so highly geared to go chasing – and are easily lost particularly pursuing pigeons! but with careful flying – making the sessions varied and fun – this can be to an extent be overcome or the behaviour delayed. If it starts happening – which after all is natural behaviour it is better to pass the falcon on to a falconer who wants to fly it as a falconry bird.

Guests like to see a Peregrine fly particularly students because they are such iconic creatures – a speedster with a world renown dive. It has a global presence which is important too and it has benefited from a successful reintroduction program in North America after the devastating effect of now banned pesticides like DDT.  So its value to the understanding of  conservation is immeasurable. We do our best but it is not always possible to have a Peregrine. Hence we rely on a similar falcon the Lanner Falcon with its more pragmatic view on life – but also a wonderful flyer – for our birds of prey display work – in the falcon department anyway. I will leave you with a picture of Sprite. 

Kestrel Flying

The weather and various factors have slowed us down but our male Kestrel ‘Pete’ is flying again. We put some new jesses on him and bell – plus a transmitter just before flying – and went for it. He is a wonderful little bird and flew well – flying a bird free is just great! Brian our Lanneret despite a couple of hiccups is also flying again and as I have said before he is an exciting falcon too.

We saw our first swallows yesterday (7/4/18)  on an evening walk and again today – not so late actually maybe about a week later from our usual first sighting. I saw a lovely wild Peregrine on my way to Oxford on Friday – just fantastic. She had had some altercation with a crow and I could see her beautiful underside markings as she banked away and up – in rather a low speed and clumsy fashion. In fact our local pylon Peregrine has been back – I look out for it everyday – which is great to see.

We have had a week of turmoil with our email settings and apologies to any one who has been inconvenienced. We used to run ‘Michael Davie falconry displays’ by word of mouth and leaflets and some rudimentary advertising. Indeed word of mouth is still vital but we are so reliant on websites, email and internet to such an extent that even a minor problem is disruptive. Hopefully that is an end to it!

I will end this blog with a picture of ‘Pete’ our Kestrel – 

April update

Today has felt a little warmer than almost any day since last autumn and it felt quite uplifting. Not so uplifting is the wetness of the ground which has necessitated cancellation of at least one event but apart from this disappointment we are now in the process of getting our whole team of birds of prey flying in readiness for the season ahead. This includes Brian our exceptional Lanneret, Pete the Kestrel with Sprite our Peregrine soon to follow – from their winter lofting aviaries. They join our winter team who will continue flying everyday although ‘Leah’ our older Lanner Falcon will just fly at Thornbury Castle and Blenheim Palace along with her daily exercise at home.

We made time just before Easter and went down to Stroud to find the grave of Major Charles Hawkins Fisher the noted Stroud falconer who family home a fine looking property called the Castle on Castle Street. He died in 1901 and I remember as a school boy in Stroud visiting the local museum to look at a few of his artefacts – some stuffed falcons including a merlin, a photograph of him, plus various bits and pieces of falconry furniture that had at some point had been donated to the museum.

He was a remarkable character – a victorian gentleman – who was Champion archer of England 3 times! and was a noted and brilliant falconer who left one of the best books on falconer ever written called ‘Reminiscences Of A Falconer’ an anecdotal book of his falconry experiences, thoughts and observations. It is a timeless historical document.

He died in October 1901 ‘Fisher’s long time falconer, James Rutford attended his master for the last time. a hooded falcon on his fist, at the Stroud graveside’ (from Roger Upton’s intorduction to the reprint 1997).

I did some research and visited what I thought would be the graveyard where he was mostly likely to be buried.We were most surprised to find not only his grave but it also happened to his family grave – as they were a well known family. It was a great moment an we felt a real sense of history.

I will sign off with a couple of pictures  where he used to live  ‘The Castle’, Stroud, Gloucetershire

March update

Well the good news is that the hawk bus ‘van’ went through its MOT this morning – without a problem unlike last year – so I am happy about that. We have just had a complete crash on the computer due to an update causing mayhem. Thankfully it has been put right now but it has meant a computer rebuild from scratch with some loss of data but we can survive – so far so good – it just shows how reliant we are on the internet.

Back to the falconry! all the birds are flying well and we had a nice Sunday display at Thornbury Castle – a return booking from 10 years ago. The weather was very pleasant with some warm lift on the light breeze available for the falcons and ‘Leah’ was just fantastic ranging far out gaining height and returning at great speed – a perfect way to end our display.

I have said previously events are now booking us for the summer ahead and some are hiring our falconry display for 2019 which seems a long way off. I sign off with a photo of the ‘hawk bus’ from Blenheim Palace with our t-pee wind resistant static display and birds.

Early March – snow

It has been a tough few days and once we enter very low daytime temperatures the two falcons have  heat from ceramic bulbs. It just keeps the frost off them. They should be ok anyway as they are adult birds and very hardy. It is first year birds that are particularly vulnerable to a complex condition called WTO and are best being fed up and turned loose into an aviary for their first winter. WTO is a condition where the wing joints can become swollen and inflamed and need immediate specialized veterinary care to prevent gangrene – as I said it is a complex condition but there is an association with cold. So for our birds it is a precaution.

We have been quite busy recently – relative to the time of year and apart from a being a rather long winter particularly – a prevalent feeling at the moment! it has been a good one.

Our dog has been down to Thornbury Castle and  she has been much appreciated by guests – who often have dogs of their own. We used to do a little demo with old gundog Brooklyn – who was such a lovely steady dog. Anyway ‘Grace’ has been coming with me because I did not want to leave her behind a couple of times and despite her rather erratic temperament she has proved to be very popular and she is sensational when on form – so so far so good! We do little training each day as part of our afternoon walk and it gives her additional mental stimulation.

Our walks recently have been interesting particularly in this cold weather as we have seen so many species that have moved onto farmland – having to range for food. We have seen Lapwings – which used to be a very common farmland bird but now rare, Golden Plover and a couple of Stonechats.  The severn estuary is not far away and one assumes this is where they winter.

Anyway I will leave you with a lovely photo of ‘Bo’ our Indian Eagle owl – to end this blog entry,